Being a December marathon, we were expecting relatively cool/cold weather. Or at least, as much as you can expect that in Texas. I had been hearing the stories of last year's race that included near freezing temperatures and and a constant misting precipitation the entire race. We had experienced pretty consistently cool temperatures leading up to the race for the about the last two months or so. I felt that I was adequately acclimated to the cool weather now and that I was really going to enjoy racing in these cool temperatures. However, getting to the start line on race morning it felt like an Austin summer morning. Temperature was in the low 70's and it was nearly 100% humidity. Less than ideal conditions. And, while I was pretty used to running in those types of conditions and had trained in them pretty consistently, it had been over two months since I had experienced anything like this. My body wasn't used to it and since this was the first day in a long time we'd had conditions like this, I knew this was going to be tough day. It was going to be tough already since it was my first marathon and I was still dealing with the IT Band issue.
Regardless, I still remembered what a lot of my running partners had told me: take it all in and enjoy it! I was energized by the crowd in the starting corral. Here I was, after all that I'd been through and where I was just seven months ago, I was now on the starting line about to run in my first marathon. I'll admit, I was little emotional. I thought to myself: "I may do more of these, but I'll never experience my first one again. Remember it. Soak it in. Enjoy it!" Whatever was about to happen, I was going to handle it and enjoy the experience.
The gun went off, my excitement and emotions were off the chart, and the race had begun. I was in it now. I knew from experience that I often started out too fast and I needed to slow down. Especially with the IT Band issue. My physical therapist had given me a strategy to run the first minute of every mile to give the IT Band a break and allow me to recover. Having implored this strategy in training I discovered that I could maintain my average goal pace doing this so I had this strategy ready if I needed it. Of course, I had it in my head that I needed to try to run the whole thing and anything less would be a disappointing. At the same time, I didn't lose sight of the fact that finishing is the ultimate goal regardless of how I got there.
The first 3 - 4 miles I used the crowd to slow me down. I didn't go out of my way to try and run around people. It felt like I was painfully slow but looking at my watch I discovered I was just slightly ahead of the pace my plan had me running. I relaxed and fed off the energy from the crowd of spectators. By mile 5, the IT Band had made its presence and situation known and I had begun my run/walk strategy. As we crossed the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge around my 6 or 7, which is featured in the race's logo, I met up with my running partner Kelly. Kelly was experienced at marathons and had really helped me during my training. There was a point during training where I couldn't get past 16 miles. It seemed like no matter what I did, everything fell apart once I went beyond that. One day, Kelly said "You're going to stick with me. I'm not going to leave you and you're going to do it." And I did. That was just the breakthrough I needed and really helped my confidence. Kelly was doing good and was feeling great. I ran with her a bit until I needed to walk again as per my plan. I knew if I pushed through and got off plan, I would pay for it later. And things were already starting to feel hard so I swallowed my pride, said goodbye and good luck to Kelly, and began to walk for a minute as my watch alarm went off.
By this point, I was completely soaked with sweat. I could feel the humidity around me and it made the air feel thick and soupy. By mile 10, things did not feel good. I began to worry. If I felt like this at mile 10, how was I going feel at mile 20? Was I even going to make it mile 20? My plan was to just keep moving and deal with whatever happens. Each progressive mile felt a little worse. It felt a little warmer, a little more humid, and a little harder with each passing mile. I kept going. By mile 13, the halfway point, I knew the rest of the race was going to be a struggle. I began to doubt myself and get frustrated. Why was this so hard? I had trained and have felt much better in many of my training runs. Why was I struggling to much now?
By the time I made it to White Rock Lake, around mile 16, I was in the midst of a deep personal battle. This was hard. It sucked. I felt like I was hitting the wall. But it was still really early for that. What was it going to be like when I get to the point where I hit the actually wall that most hit later in the race? The negative self-talk was getting louder. The crowds and become almost non-existent around this back part of the lake. As I made it to mile 18 and turned off of the lake path and onto the street, I was in a really dark place. I wasn't sure if I was going to finish. I had been hearing the very loud music from the mile 20 rest stop from across the lake for about the last half hour. If I could just make it to that... About that time, I saw my parents. They had driven in and told me they were going to be somewhere on the course and then and that finish. I was so glad to see familiar faces. They were cheering and very encouraging. It was just the pick-me-up I needed. I ran a little more determined and less defeated. Not far from my parents, I caught up to Kelly again. Unfortunately, she was not doing well and had some serious pain in her foot. That didn't stop her from being very supportive and encouraging to me. I said my thank yous and goodbyes and that I was looking forward to seeing them at the finish. I was exhausted, limping and in a great deal of pain, but I was going to make it. No matter how hard it was going to be, I was going to make it.
I made it through the mile 20 rest stop and paused briefly to regroup and refuel. Just beyond this are the only hills of the Dallas course. Two short but steep hills right together. They call them the Dolly Parton hills and there are a group of guys who are dressed (intentionally very poorly) like Dolly there to cheer you on. The negative self-talk began to fade and I started to enjoy the race once again. I was off my goal pace but I was in the home stretch. The next few miles were a little frustrating as they wound through some Dallas neighborhoods. I could see downtown (where the finish was) and would be filled with hope as we were heading toward it. Then the course would change we'd be heading away from downtown. That continue until about mile 24 or so. Then it was just straight into downtown. It was the hardest 2 miles I've ever run.
I just kept pushing and was energized as I got into the big crowd of spectators that lined the finished. I saw my parents again. This was it. I had made it. Triumphantly, with hands in the air, I pushed through and crossed the finish line. They put a medal around my neck as I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the moment and take pride in the push that I just made to the finish. Then, it hit me. The realization of what had just happened began to become clear and the emotions started to grow. I had finished my first marathon. 4:57. From everything I'd been through and as tough as it was, I had set a challenging goal, one that was always "wouldn't it be cool if..." type of goal, and I had completed it. It was real and I felt absolutely amazing. As hard as everything was, I wouldn't have it any other way.
I met up with Kelly at the finish and eventually my parents. I didn't want the moment to end. I felt like I could conquer the world. Despite all the challenges and setbacks, I was now a marathon finisher! I was really going to enjoy that beer and Tex-Mex meal. Of course, about this time a front was blowing in and the temperature would drop about 20 degrees over the next 3 hours. Figures.
I later found out that most everyone had bad days. One of the guys in my group who was planning to qualify for Boston had cramps and hip problems. Many people dropped out. A lot of people had races that were far from their goals. I took comfort in the fact that it wasn't just me and it wasn't any lack of effort, training, or preparation on my part. It was just a hard day, but it was my day. I did it and nothing could take that away. Even one of the more elite runners who trained at Rogue had a similar experience. His race report really resonated with me and I especially liked his lessons learned. Couldn't have said it better myself.
Regardless, I did what I set out to do. I had gone from 40 pounds heavier, out of shape, completely sedentary and unhealthy earlier in the year, to marathon finisher.
|Picture from my parents' perspective. I'm both happy to see them and struggling mightily.|
|Making my way to the finish|
|Crossing the finish. I was about 7 minutes behind the gun time.|
|Me and Kelly|